Kate Green / Stuff
Angus Simms, left, and Katie Jackson are the founders of Wonky Box, a subscription dining service offering odd-shaped and excess fresh produce, locally grown in Kāpiti and Wairarapa, to homes around Wellington.
A Kāpiti Coast couple’s food rescue business has thrived under the unlikely pressures of the Covid lockdown, with more people than ever ordering food to their doorsteps.
Wonky Box is a subscription food delivery service run by Angus Simms and Katie Jackson, delivering odd-shaped and excess fresh produce, locally grown in Kāpiti and Wairarapa, to homes around Wellington.
Globally, approximately one-third of all food is wasted, generating 6.7% of all carbon emissions. Since launching Wonky Box before the August 2021 lockdown, it has grown a customer base of nearly 500 Wellington homes, saving 20 tonnes of food from landfill during the last lockdown alone.
The box is a subscription service, with customers receiving an ever-changing variety of fresh vegetables totally dependent on what their 16 growers have on hand each week.
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Simms and Jackson started the business after spending a summer working on farms and orchards. They had quit their jobs, bought a motorhome and traveled around the South Island for the summer, ending up on a hop farm in Nelson.
“When Covid hit, many growers struggled to sell domestically, and freight delays were bad for their overseas market. We have experienced firsthand a number of difficulties faced by our local producers. »
When they returned to the capital, Simms’ hometown, they looked for a way to support local farmers. “There are a lot of products that go to waste or cannot be sold for various reasons,” Simms said. “These are quite shocking percentages – 30-35% of food produced does not leave the source.”
Small imperfections, shapes and differences in size meant that some products did not meet the strict appearance codes of major markets. The pair saw an opportunity to act as a middleman. They began to “knock on the door” of farmers, hoping to establish partnerships.
“A lot of growers were honest about their waste, but it didn’t make financial sense to harvest it,” he said. “It’s a labor cost and a machine cost, and if they have no way to sell it, what’s the point?”
Eventually, they built a network of growers who were able to supply them with leftover produce, with the types and quantities changing weekly.
The lockdown has been “a really interesting period of growth” as more households chose to have their groceries delivered, and with a market teeming with producers unable to sell their produce overseas.
Wonky Box is now part of a Creative HQ incubator to expand its operations, and recently moved its operations to a warehouse in Granada North.
Eating locally grown produce is a form of climate resilience, with food having to travel fewer miles to reach the table and providing security for communities that might otherwise be at the mercy of cut supply chains. If the food is produced just down the street, there is an assurance that people will not go hungry.
For producers, the partnership provided another source of income when demand for hospitality plummeted thanks to Covid-19.
Lisa and Tony Dale, owners of Waikawa Fresh in Manukau north of Wellington, said it was impossible to change the amounts of produce they grew overnight – their lettuce and herbs only lasted two to three days . Before Wonky Box, if supermarkets or restaurants didn’t want it, you had to throw it away.
“They helped us be more sustainable,” Lisa Dale said.
Wonky Box’s next big project is a collaboration with a group of master’s students from Victoria University of Wellington, who specialize in software development, to create an app for customers.
By scanning a QR code on the box, customers will be able to see a digital map of where their food comes from and learn more about the farm and the producers – just one more way to connect people to the source of their food.